My Take on Assistive Tech for the Hackaday Prize

We’re in the last few weeks for entries in the 2016 Hackaday Prize — specifically the challenge is to show off your take on assisstive technology. This is a hugely broad category and I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I’m sure there’s a ton of low-hanging fruit that’s not obvious to everyone. This would be a great time to hit up the comments below and leave your “hey, I always thought someone should make…” ideas. I’m looking forward to reading them and it might just inspire someone to spend the next couple weeks hammering out a prototype to enter.

For me, it’s medication. I knew this can be a challenging problem having gone through a few cycles of prescription medicines in my life. But recently I helped out a family member who was suddenly on many medications taken on eight different times a day — including once, twice, three, and six times per day. This was further compounded by sleep deprivation (having to set alarms at night to take the medicine) and  drowsy/woozy effects from the medicine. I can tell you first hand that this is really tough for anyone to deal with and it’s incredibly easy to make a mistake or not be able to remember if you took a dose.

Pill Organizers Do No More or Less

We’ve seen a number of pill organizers before and that’s what I reached for in this case. However, that organizer only had four slots for each day. I didn’t hack it (other than writing on the doors with a Sharpie for when to take each) but even if there were added buttons or LEDs I’m not convinced this would be a marked improvement.

What you see above is my proposal for the medicine problem. Smartphones have become ubiquitous and the processing power and cameras of even budget phones are mind blowing. I think it is entirely possible to write an app that uses computer vision to recognize pills and sync them with the schedule. This may mean whipping the phone out of your pocket, or designing a pill box that has a phone stand next to it (saying that makes me think of using RPi and a Pi camera). Grab your pills and validate them under the camera.

Useful Augmented Reality

The screen of the phone would use augmented reality to overlay information about the pills it sees — you know, like Pokemon Go but in a way that enriches your life. ‘pills, catch ’em all!’ — new pills can be learned of the fly, delivering the user to a screen to identify the pill and the dosing schedule. Taking the validation picture will record when the medicine was taken, and the natural extension of this systems is a pharmacy’s ability to push your dose schedule to your account when you pick up the prescription. A stretch goal would be keeping an eye out for interactions.

This is all very much like how hospitals do it — they’re scanning bar codes on the packaging and the patient bracelet and recording it. This would be an easier user experience and quite frankly I think companies already in this space (like Snapchat and Niantic) could whip this up in a single-day hackathon no problem.

Is it the perfect system? Maybe not. But there is no perfect system or we’d be using it by now. We need you, the world’s talent pool, to step up and make life a little better. Do it in prototype form by October 3rd and you’ll be eligible for one of twenty $1000 cash prizes and a chance at winning the Hackaday Prize. But even if you don’t build a single thing, one idea could be the spark that lets others change the world for the better. So let’s hear it!

Brushless HDD Motor Driver from 9V and Painter’s Tape

Hard drives work by spinning platters full of magnetized data while a read/write head very quickly harvests or changes bits as needed. Older (or perhaps cheaper) drives spin at 5400 RPM, better drives spin at 7200 RPM, and elite drives (that mortals like you never shell out for) spin in the 10k-15k RPM range. This spinning is thanks to a sweet combination of a bearing and a brushless DC motor.

Unfortunately you can’t drive a brushless motor without a brushless motor driver. Well, of course that’s not absolutely true — and [Tommy Callaway] has certainly hacked together a crude exception to the rule. He’s using a 9-volt battery and some blue painters tape to drive a brushless motor.

Brushless motors do their thing by placing permanent magnets on the rotor (the part that spins) and placing multiple stationary coils of wire around it. Brushless motor drivers then energize these coils in a vary carefully timed pattern to continuously push the rotor magnets in the same direction.

[Tommy] wired up his 9V to one of these coils and observed that it holds the rotor in position. He then began playing around with different ways automatically break the circuit to de-energize the coil at just the right time. This means using the spinning center of the hard drive as part of the circuit, with blue painter’s tape in alternating patterns to create the timing. Is this a brushless motor driver, or has he just re-invented the brushed motor?

If this workbench trick leaves you wanting for some hardcore BLCD action, you can’t go wrong with this $20 offering to push motors at very high speeds.

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5 More SuperCon Speakers You Don’t Want to Miss

This morning it is my pleasure to announce five more confirmed speakers for the Hackaday SuperConference. The ultimate hardware conference takes place in just a few weeks: November 5th and 6th in Pasadena, California.

Get your tickets now!

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[Geohot] Selling His “Self-Driving” Car Tech for $1k by New Year

This week [Geohot] announced the launch of his self-driving car hardware. This is the natural extension of his proof-of-concept shown off in December which he parlayed into a Silicon Valley startup called [Geohot], whose real name is [George Hotz], is well known for jailbreaking the iPhone and making Sony look like idiots when they retroactively crippled Linux support on PS3. He has hardware chops.

Initial self-driving add-on hardware only works with Honda and Acura models that already have lane-keeping assist features because those vehicles already have built-in front radar. The package, which replaces the rear view mirror, adds a front facing camera. Those lucky (or brave, foolish, daring?) beta users can trade $999 and $24/month for what is currently a green 3D printed enclosure with some smartphone-like hardware inserted.

The company has taken an interesting approach to acquiring data needed for this particular flavor of self-driving. [Hotz] is teasing a chance at beta test invites to those who contribute driving data to the company. This is as simple as downloading an app to your phone and letting it roll from your windshield as you go bumper to bumper from Mountain View to San Francisco. That’s right, the plan is to support just that stretch of the nation’s highway system — although [Hotz] did make a brazen estimate of 90% of commutes for 90% of users within a year. Hey, it’s a startup so it’s either that, selling to a bigger fish, or closing their doors.

That narrow route support is actually an interesting constraint. In fact, the company is most interesting because of its chosen constraints: a small subset of cars, a chosen stretch of highway, and dare we say sanity when it comes to self-driving expectations. Grandiose claims have the general public thinking a vehicle with no human driver will slide up to your stoop and take you anywhere you want to go. That is a dauntingly difficult engineering challenge (dare we say impossible). What [Hotz] is selling is a more stress-free commute, not a nap in the back seat. You still need to be paying attention at all times.

Will this system work? Undoubtedly the engineering is possible (Tesla is already doing it). The biggest question mark that remains is human nature. This system demands your attention even though you’re doing nothing. That seems unrealistic — users are bound to lapse in attention much more frequently than if they were the primary driver. The question then becomes, will people pay attention at the very rare yet very crucial moments, and can a system like this prevent more fatal accidents than it causes?

[via Engadget]

Smartphone TV Remote Courtesy of Homekit and ESP8266

Good grief, this smartphone-to-TV remote really drives home how simple hardware projects have become in the last decade. We’re talking about a voltage regulator, IR LED, and ESP8266 to add TV control on your home network. The hardware part of the hack is a homemade two sided board that mates an ESP with a micro-USB port, a voltage regulator to step down fom 5 to 3.3 v, and an IR LED for transmitting TV codes.

Let’s sit back and recount our good fortunes that make this possible. USB is a standard and now is found on the back of most televisions — power source solved. Cheap WiFi-enabled microcontroller — check. Ubiquitous smartphones and established protocols to communicate with other devices on the network — absolutely. It’s an incredible time to be a hacker.

Television infrared remote codes are fairly well documented and easy to sniff using tools like Arduino — in fact the ESP IR firmware for this is built on [Ken Shirriff’s] Arduino IR library. The rest of the sketch makes it a barebones device on the LAN, waiting for a connection that sends “tvon” or “tvoff”. In this case it’s a Raspberry Pi acting as the Homekit server, but any number of protocols could be used for the same (MQTT anyone?).

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A Better Way to Measure Your Impact on the World

Close your eyes and think of an electric wheelchair. What do you see? Is it sleek, futuristic, and elegant… worthy of the moniker: iChair? No, no it is not. It’s a boxy tank-like thing with grey knobbed wheels that is powered with lead-acid batteries. Why is that?

Obviously there are alternatives. Just yesterday I came across UPnRIDE (that name is sore on the eyes but speak it aloud and you’ll get it). It’s an electric wheelchair that converts into a standing position. And it looks comparatively sleek and modern. And it’s not the first time I’ve seen the idea before. One of my favorite articles over the years is still our coverage of Tek RMD, a similar standing robotic wheelchair design. So why is it I don’t see these in the wild? Why is it I only remember seeing the concept twice in four years?

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Get Your Ticket to SuperCon, the Greatest Hardware Creation Con

The world’s most excellent conference on hardware creation, the Hackaday SuperConference, is back. Get your tickets now for two magical days in Pasadena this November.

This exclusive gathering of hackers, designers, and engineers is where brilliant people geek out with their peers. Talks tell the story of research, prototyping, product design, manufacturing, and getting that new hardware out into the world. Nowhere else can you get such a concentrated dose of Sistine-Chapel-like details about what is being built in businesses small and large, basements, University labs, and everywhere else.

Early tickets are $128, get your pass to the conference now! This ticket gets you in the door for talks, breakfast and lunch on both days, a conference badge, and the party on Saturday night. SuperCon also includes hands-on workshops — these have limited capacity and some have material costs, more about this next week.

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